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Tag: creative synthesis

Come Backs

Well, just crap on a cracker. Tom showed me an article that says saddle oxfords are back in style. People will start wearing saddle oxfords again. I’ll keep wearing my saddle oxfords. Then they’ll stop wearing theirs. They will look at my feet like, girl, don’t you know saddle oxfords aren’t in style any more?
This happens to me all the time. I figure, you wear odd things, sometimes other people start wearing them too. Then they stop. You go on. Nothing to be done for it but struggle forward . . . or backward as the case may be.
*
On the other hand, I was thrilled to see Chautauqua is making a come back. My mother went to a Chautauqua ten or fifteen years ago, maybe the original Chautauqua in New York state. She returned with great stories. People walking from meeting to meeting in the woods learning in a Teddy Roosevelt type of way. Recently, when we were lost in Crystal Springs, Mississippi, we passed a Chautauqua park. But all it had was picnic tables, no men and women striding through the grounds bent on self-improvement and learning. There’s a Chautauqua in New Orleans and it does feature learning but no campground, just six week courses in a classroom setting. Monteagle in Tennessee appears to have a Chautauqua with both instruction and a campground setting. I might have to check it out . . . if they allow adults.
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The blender we own looks like it came from the 1970s. Not the 1960s, which would be cool in a retro type of way. This has a cheap yellow plastic 1970s look. When I finished using it to make a milkshake for lunch (with yogurt, I promise), I yanked the cord from the outlet to prevent vampiric energy loss (it’s a real thing.) The outlet, I noticed, was turning green. A sickly green. I examined the end of the blender cord. It was green. A corrosive green. So now I’m in the market for a new blender. I’m on the lookout for an Oster chrome job with the wavy bottom. Surely those are back in style.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

At Beth’s Bookstore, I slipped a paperback from the shelf. I read the first line. That’s how I chose a book: the first line, then the first paragraph. Sometimes if I’m unsure, I continue further down the page. Then I either buy the book or I put it back.

I’ve been burned using this method—occasionally, a book doesn’t live up to the opening—but not often. This time, “The Revolution of Little Girls,” proved to be one of the funniest books I’ve run across in a while.

After I finished I went on-line to learn more about the author and the book. Because the book was published in 1991—before-on-line dominance—the Amazon reviews were sparse. Of the 9, 3 were negative. On Goodreads, the majority were 3 or below. The novel received enthusiastic reviews when it was released; it won awards. Many on-line commentors, however, did not like its “Southernism;” its structure (“jumps around too much”); or its resolution. To me, the major flaw of the novel was that, about 2/3s of the way through, it actually became too linear after the author had taught us to expect discreet, non-linear chapters.

I am so glad I had this experience. As a woman trying to get my Southern novel into the marketplace, I needed to see the negative reviews of a novel I thought was hilarious. This switches the question from, “Will they like it?” to “Do I like it?” Have I written exactly the novel I wanted to write? Do I love it more than Christmas? If so, then when others say, “Anh, not so much,” I understand they just have different taste. And that’s okay.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

Rainy Day Thoughts

There is a person inside of me who sits on the sofa like the little boy in the back-in-the-day commercial who says, “And I can’t find my socks.”

There’s also the girl who wants to pull on her wellies and stomp through the puddles, umbrella resting on her shoulder.

There’s the granddaughter who wants to shake a wet frog at her grandmother, making her jump, and the old lady gardener who wants to weed while the roots are wet, yanking their stricken whiteness so easily from their chosen home.

There’s the frog who resents being shaken, and the inchworm who wants to crawl across the underside of the wet leaves, dodging pearlized droplets of water.

And me, who wants to sit at the windowsill watching the rain run down the pane imagining all the beings who dwell inside of her.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

Just Wondering

* does everyone automatically lift their foot from the accelerate when they see a cop, or is it just me?
* have we ever measured a dog’s blood pressure to see if our presence makes her pressure go down?
* why did the salesman let me buy a black and blue shirt with a black and blue tie to go with “black” pants that would be revealed to be brown once in the sunlight?
* why didn’t I read the tag on the pants that clearly said “Brown”?
* why does almond milk tarnish silver?
* do people really hate beets or is it the vinegar they’re usually soaked in?
* why does baby apparatus (car seats, strollers, etc) have to be so mechanical?
* is there a plural of apparatus?
* why is slow service at a restaurant considered sophisticated?
* would I be happy driving a Cadillac?
* can anyone do something about my obsession with puns?
* when did “tight” become the only jeans fit?
* do I sound like an old person?
* why does the dog lick Tom’s head?
* what did I not do that I should have done to keep clover from growing in my yard?
* will this unknown mistake haunt me all summer?
* who hit my car?
* why did I spend all of April worrying about the fact I’d used up my WiFi minutes only to get a bill $17 over my regular bill?
* where do I buy cool sneakers now that R. Sole is out of business?
* does anyone realize these are not rhetorical questions?

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

My Peony Life

Last night, I remembered the peonies in my dream. Startled, I wondered: had I missed their blooming?

Many years ago, I dug a hole to China and planted the peony bulb in my yard – 18 inches isn’t deep until you start digging. I’d fallen in love with the flower’s ostentatiousness, its irrational exuberance, its beauty.

But the peonies’ bloom time is short. Had I somehow allowed life to distract me? Had I let that which I used to value so highly enter—and leave—my life without even noticing?

peonies

This is my life. Right on the verge of bursting forth. If only I don’t get distracted and forget why I did all the hard work planting the bulb in the first place: because I just love it.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

Things I Noticed Today

a robin chirping

the wind chimes tinkling

the pressure washing going on next door

a plane piloted by my neighbor buzzing his house, twice

a barge coming down the Wolf River Harbor

my husband coughing as he took a nap

the dog scratching at the closet door

the weed-eater

the chainsaw

the tree limb scratching against the side of the house

the heavy truck rumbling down the street

a ski boat, twice

workers yelling at each other

 

so many noises the helpful brain filters out so you don’t even hear them . . . unless you’re recording, then you do

recorder

here’s to creative synthesis  . . . .

 

 

It’s Different

“Begin with yourself,” said several of the panelists at today’s Memphis United People’s Conference on Race and Equality. They were talking about racism. “Begin with yourself and ripple out from there: to your household, your family, your neighborhood, your community.” This ls a paraphrase, but the concept was repeated many times.

This is where I begin today:

We went to the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum for a Door of Hope Writing Group outing. Every other month we go for lunch and a field trip. The site usually is picked by the group but, at the last minute, our site for this month’s trip proved unavailable. With a hasty substitute, we set off.

I was walking through the museum, noticing that all the initial voices on the tape leading us through the museum were white. I also noticed an exhibit describing crooked landowners cheating sharecroppers—I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an admission before. I listened as Rufus Thomas described sneaking into the WDIA control room to learn how to twist the knobs. He wanted to learn but WDIA—which I thought was a Black-owned radio station because its audience was African-American and the writers who wrote about playing for the baseball team were African American—was owned by white folks, hence the sneaking. All through the museum, I noticed Whites Only signs and other reminders of the times. I noticed these things because how we choose to tell the story—or not—is important to me.

The next day we wrote about our trip. I reminded the group they could write about any aspect of the trip, and sometimes what we experience in a place is not what the organizers intended. I said this because on the way home from the museum, one of the African-American writers told me how hurtful the initial exhibits on sharecropping were to her. Because she’d been in the fields with her grandmother. She remembered as a little girl what the words were describing. Others chose to write about this aspect of the museum as well. The pain caused by the Whites Only signs. How much these reminders hurt.

Earlier that week, I had mentioned to a friend that my husband and I visited Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum. I’d gone to the museum because I’m from Mississippi; I live in Memphis; race is an important issue to me that I’ve responded to by reading books, attending lectures, listening and learning, trying to educate myself. My friend told me the way she and I experienced Slave Haven would be different. “Because I am Black and you are white,” she said. “It’s different.”

I heard her then, but I did not understand until I went to the a museum that had nothing to do with race; experienced the museum, including its racial aspects; then heard African-Americans write about their experience of the same museum. Then I understood.

It’s different.

here’s to creative synthesis . . . .

Open to All

There is a religion in New Orleans that I don’t know.

In this religion the windows open outward.

The joy vibrates and you are asked, “Are you Italian?” No?”

Then you are told about the blessed bean.

St Joseph

In this religion, hands wave, the food is spread and waiting.

Sometimes the religion is about the saints. Sometimes it’s about the floats you worked on for six weeks until you got it just right.

St. Paddy's Day

Sometimes it’s about your group, your tribe, the feathers you sewed onto your costume and made resplendent for all to see.

Always, this religion invites.

Super Sunday

In the streets or in the church or in the house: open to all.

That’s my kind of God.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

 

My New Definition of Worthwhile

Last night, we stood in line with hordes of  parade goers, waiting for the ‘’Tit R~x Parade to get underway. In my hand I held a hastily-constructed stand of tiny spectators, proportionately appropriate for the tiny floats making up the parade that parodies the grandaddy of all Mardi Gras parades, the Krewe of Rex. I’d read that the creator of the ‘Tit R~x Micro-Krewe was overjoyed by parade participants who created tiny dolls to view his petite parade. I wanted him to know I loved his parade, so I brought the Bywater Bystanders with their homemade sign: “Throw me something, Mister!”

After a long wait, finally, down the street trundled the shoe-box sized floats. Fully lit, mechanized, replete with elaborate detail—the floats mesmerized. I held out my offering. “Tiny spectators for the tiny floats,” I repeated, and was rewarded with throws so small the marchers had to carefully place them in my hand. Kneeling, I let the Bywater Bystanders view the rolling floats. Beside me, a guy vroomed! his toy cars. “Me, me, me!” he beeped. “Parade traffic,” he explained.

Inspired by the parade and our visit the day before to the Backstreet Museum to view the elaborate Mardi Gras Indian costumes, I’ve decided my new, highest standard of life will be that no effort counts unless just about everyone in the world will think it counts for nothing.

From now on, my only legitimate aspiration will be to expend untold amounts of my limited self on a project, a task, an undertaking, a something incredibly important to me and probably no one else. I will strive to get it exactly right, to care about the minute details, to lose myself in something I cannot count on one person validating along the way. I will act knowing from the outset that the world won’t care, won’t understand, or—like the other tourists at the Backstreet Museum gazing at the colorful, intricately hand-sewn costumes that take up to a year to create only to be worn for one season, then set aside—will repeat in a voice that clearly objects: “worn only once?”

This is my new definition of worthwhile. To wit: nothing is really worthwhile unless it is a totally extravagant, unjustifiable expression of the spirit that no one will understand except your tribe.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

The Uncertainty of Being Southern

As my husband ate a haystack, munching away, I thought about my earlier conversation with the man at the fireplace shop. “Why are they called dog irons?” I asked. I only asked the man this question after walking through his entire 50,000 square foot store and not seeing one dog on the fireplace equipment. He said, “They’re not. They’re andirons.”

Southern corruption, I mused, and kept on trucking. Until I ran into haystacks.

Are they really called haystacks, those little clumps of chocolate and chow mein noodles, or is that another “regional” word . . . like “running buddies” that don’t jog, “church keys” that don’t belong in church, “dopp kits” that a California editor wanted me to remove from my story because he didn’t believe there was any such of a thing as a dopp kit?

Who knows.

Such is my life as a Southerner: tooling along, living with the uncertainty that you may be ignorantly using a word that actually isn’t a word at all. My heritage, immune to four years of college, three years of law school, and untold years of Cheever, Malamud, Tolstoy, Celine, Fuentes, and all the other greats of literature who I’m sure only ever used regionalisms when they fully knew what they were doing.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

The God Moment

I am struggling to get at something. The thing is important, undiminished by my fuzziness as to exactly what it is. It has to do with what is important in this world.

Not what we are told should be important. But, for me, what is, in fact, important.

The triggering event: I was sitting in writing group listening to the writers read their work while staring out the door into the sunlight bouncing off the green leaves beneath the blue sky and thought: this is it.

What is it?

Or, it is what?

Peace, a word I’m not too keen on because it implies lethargy, when this “it” thing is dynamic. An active state of being inside a state of being.

I told you I was struggling.

Whatever “it” is, it’s taking place in moments. Like at writing group. Or when I’m listening to a man I really don’t know tell me something so important to him. During those moments, something physical changes. A different place breaks through.

Quietly, no fanfare, just—if I stretch out my pointing finger I can almost touch it—there. While I sit and stare out the door into the sunlight waving on green leaves beneath the bright blue sky.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

At some point along the line, I began using as my email sign-off phrase, “peace in creativity.” I don’t remember the trigger. Maybe a combination of the traditional “religious folks” sign-off (peace) plus “creativity” as a variation of the title of my book (“Making Crosses: A Creative Connection to God”). Whatever, I’ve continued to use it because so very often, there is no peace in creativity.

Creativity is such a lovely concept. The word embodies a time of intense focus on what is being born, unbridled by concern for what the other thinks of the coming creation. Peace.

That’s when you are creating by yourself. Add in other people, and it becomes a jake-leg, herky-jerk, fits-and-starts, back-and-forth, contentious process. No peace.

Often, the email I’m sending is to one of those ornery folks with whom I’m involved in the creation process. The recipient knows very well we are not in a place of peace.  Sometimes I think they get the email and think, what the hell?

Yet, I force myself to type, “peace in creativity” as a statement of belief and faith in a certain reality, all evidence to the contrary. The whirring wind, the noise and confusion—that’s the Spirit spreading across the face of the water at the dawn of time. Chill. Believe in the outcome. Wait for it. And, even more importantly, enjoy it while you are in process. Life won’t come this exact way ever again.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

In filing new query letters for my short story collection, I came across an old document. The year was 2007. The list identified agents who asked for stories or the entire manuscript. There were many. I chose one.

The agent I picked was not good for me.

I piddled around with him for four years, only to ultimately part ways, my fiction unsold.

I’m not saying I made a mistake—in the interim, the cross book was published and the Door of Hope Writing Group came into being. Knowing me, neither of those things would’ve happened if I’d had a Literary Book—capital L, capital B—on the table.

But.

Changes have occurred during these years that cause a problem, and I’m not talking about changes in the publishing world. I’m talking about changes in me.

I’ve never been a naturally competitive person. “I don’t care anything about beating those girls,” I’d say to my mother in tennis tournaments. What I liked, what got me to the finals, was the beauty of the swing, the well-placed shot . . .  the silver trophy.

Nor have I easily followed someone else’s path. I am arrogant enough to think I can do it a better way. And—here’s the real kicker—I don’t like repeating myself.

So when it comes to getting the short stories into the world, I’ve already done the “send out query letters, get an agent, jump up and down when the agent calls,” thing. That makes it boring, boring, boring.

So . . . .

How to achieve my goal—getting the stories into the world, encouraging people to experience them, maybe even inducing an aha! moment: short stories can be FUN!—while at the same time enjoying myself?

Answer: Podcasts.

Only problem: when I practice reading the stories, timing myself, I start laughing, thinking, this is the funniest story.

I gotta buck up here. Get serious.

Or not.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

 

 

One novel is under consideration by two publishers and an agent. Another is with a final set of readers. I’m revising my first set of interlocking short stories. Suddenly, I’m running like a well-oiled writing machine.

These very early short stories are good. Their problems lie mostly in mechanics. Too many words to describe simple movements. Lots of thats. A few unnecessary clutterings.

But, for the most part, I like the simple, clean sentences. The tension that comes less from fear and more from wondering what will happen next. The almost absence of interior thought. The characters’ lying and stealing and drinking and sleeping around. The humor – okay, I always have an odd sense of humor. 

These stories – entitled The Land Behind Pickwick Lake – are worth fighting for. One received a Special Mention in Pushcart. The others, at the time, had trouble finding a publisher. Because, I think, they had too many tiny flaws. Ultimately, I gave up on them because my agent at the time said no one was publishing short stories any more. My bad.

We’ve sold our house at Pickwick Lake. Maybe this led me to return to the stories – a very specific time is fading into the past. Regardless, the lesson is this: stand up for what you love. Even if it’s our own creation.

Come September and a new publishing period, these stories are going back on the market.

Here’s to creative synthesis . . . 

Writing Theory into Reality

Finally, I wrote an ending to my novel that makes me cry. Most of the rest of the novel makes me laugh – a phenomenon I think is so strange, that something I wrote – I know the joke, right? – can make me laugh.

But when it comes to resolution, I want to feel it reverberating in my heart, welling up in my tears, spilling over in my trembling smile of satisfaction.

To accomplish that, I had to finally get to the relationship between the individual, real-life people in the book. Not the Celestials. Not theology. Certainly not politics.

This is the theme of the book: we can only solve our problems when we are in relationship with one another. Funny it took me so long to realize the truth of it.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

Pardon My Eruptions

You can know that the poor don’t have many things. You can know that the poor often don’t have cars. You can know that the poor must rely on public transportation. You may even know that public transportation runs on limited hours.

But until you know that Jimmy can’t get to his heart cath because it was scheduled at 6am and the buses don’t run at 6am, you don’t know how frightening it must be to be poor.

Once you do know that, you erupt every time you hear someone call the poor irresponsbible—why don’t they take care of their health? why do they always wait until the last minute to go to the emergency room?

Why, I ask instead, do we spend billions of dollars on our PUBLIC highways, but let the buses limp along? Answer: because we don’t ride the bus. We drive on the highways. We are not poor.

here’s to creative synthesis

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